April 6, 2021/Eye Care

How Does Chlorine Affect Your Eyes?

Plus how pools, lakes and sprinklers affect your eyes

boy swimming in pool with goggles

Pools, lakes, water parks and sprinklers are all great for keeping you cool when the weather heats up. But is this extra time in the water hard on your eyes? Should you worry about chlorine and contaminants causing eye irritation or infection?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your eyes safe and healthy in the different types of water they may encounter, says ophthalmologist Richard Gans, MD.

Chlorinated water in pools

The point of using chlorine is to keep pools and water parks as clean and safe as possible. For the most part, this product does its job. But because it’s a chemical, it can cause a reaction on the eye’s surface.

“Chlorine can make your eyes a little red, teary and sensitive to light for a couple of hours after you are in a pool or playing at a water park,” says Dr. Gans. “Wearing swimming goggles decreases exposure to the chemical. The best way to ease the pain is to flush your eyes with cool, clean water or a saline solution.”

If the problem persists for longer than a few hours, there’s likely something more serious going on.

Chlorine kills most harmful things in the water, but not everything. Some viruses (including adenovirus and pink eye) and bacteria may survive in chlorinated water and can cause an infection.

Bacteria and viruses are more likely to cause problems if you already have a cut or irritation in your eyes when you enter the water. Contact lenses, for instance, can irritate the eye’s surface, making it more likely to get infected.

Tip: If you’ve had eye surgery, stay out of pools — or avoid putting your head under water — for at least two weeks after surgery.


Fresh water in lakes and ponds

Unlike chlorinated water, fresh water in lakes and ponds can contain bacteria and other organisms including acanthamoeba. This organism causes a rare infection that is difficult to treat. It is also prevalent in well water.

This condition (acanthamoeba keratitis) occurs more frequently in contact lens wearers. The infection enters the eye when it comes in contact with irritation or a cut. You can also spread it when you touch your eyes with infected water on your hands.

Again, contact lens wearers are more susceptible because of eye irritation and frequent hand/eye contact.

Tip: The best way to avoid this type of infection if you use well water is to make sure your hands are completely dry before putting your contacts in.

Acanthamoeba keratitis is treatable with prescription eye medications, but early diagnosis is important. If left untreated, it can cause visual impairment or even blindness. It is quite rare, however, only occurring in about 33 cases per million contact lens wearers.

A quick note about water from a hose

One other water hazard to watch for comes into play when you use the garden hose, a sprinkler or water guns to keep cool.

“Water from a hose is typically safe,” says Dr. Gans. “But keep in mind (and remind your children) that it’s not safe to spray or shoot water into anyone’s eyes at close range. Water hitting the eye at a high velocity can cause damage.”


How to spot signs of infection

Typical signs of an eye infection include:

  • Redness.
  • Pain.
  • Discharge that is yellowish or mucus-like.
  • Vision problems.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Swelling.

Acanthamoeba keratitis presents with similar symptoms, but also can include excessive tearing and the sensation that you have something in your eye.

Protect your vision with prompt treatment

If you suspect you may have an eye infection, it’s important to see an eye doctor immediately for an evaluation.

Treatment for eye infections depends on the cause. However, treatment may include:

  • Warm compresses to soothe the pain.
  • Eye drops.
  • Creams.
  • Antibiotics.

“If an infection isn’t treated correctly and quickly, it can cause damage and scarring to the retina,” he says. “And that can affect your vision long-term.”

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Variety of foods that contain the antioxidant lutein
April 4, 2024/Nutrition
What Is Lutein? Learn About Its Health Benefits

This powerful carotenoid can help with your eye and skin health, LDL reduction and cognitive function

Kids playing in ocean/sea waves
March 29, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Everything You Need To Know About Sea Lice and Seabather’s Eruption

Sea lice aren’t really lice, but these tiny creatures can trigger an unpleasant allergic reaction

Assorted fruits and vegetables in variety of colors
March 27, 2024/Nutrition
What Is Zeaxanthin? Benefits and Side Effects

Found in colorful foods like spinach, corn and oranges, this carotenoid helps with eye, skin and liver health

solar eclipse
March 7, 2024/Eye Care
The Total Solar Eclipse Is Coming — Here’s How To View It Safely

It’s critical to have the proper eyewear if you plan to look up at the sun, especially during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024

Person overheated lying on chair on the beach; heart rythym next to him
December 4, 2023/Heart Health
How the Heat Can Affect Your Heart

Sizzling temperatures force your heart to work much harder

person shadow boxing outside
November 15, 2023/Exercise & Fitness
6 Health Benefits of Boxing

A type of high-intensity interval training, fitness boxing can challenge your body and mind

Adult running on treadmill to cushion their knees.
November 5, 2023/Exercise & Fitness
Is Running Bad for Your Knees?

Running doesn’t cause knee arthritis, but you can take steps to minimize cartilage damage

aerial view of doubles pickle ball match
October 31, 2023/Exercise & Fitness
Is Pickleball Good Exercise?

With a little precaution, you can prevent injuries and stay in this good-for-you game

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey